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Urcuqui, Ecuador
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  • Save Me the Plums

  • My Gourmet Memoir
  • By: Ruth Reichl
  • Narrated by: Ruth Reichl
  • Length: 7 hrs and 55 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 66
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 63
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 63

When Condé Nast offered Ruth Reichl the top position at America’s oldest epicurean magazine, she declined. She was a writer, not a manager, and had no inclination to be anyone’s boss. Yet Reichl had been reading Gourmet since she was eight; it had inspired her career. How could she say no? This is the story of a former Berkeley hippie entering the corporate world and worrying about losing her soul. It is the story of the moment restaurants became an important part of popular culture, a time when the rise of the farm-to-table movement changed, forever, the way we eat.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Loved it!

  • By Elizabeth B Carothers on 04-03-19

The Last Gourmet

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-20-19

The editor in chief of the illustrious Gourmet magazine for its final decade never imagined she would give up her career as a New York restaurant reviewer. When approached about the job by the chairman of Condé Nast, she blurted, “You are making a huge mistake.”

But she took the job, and her memoir describes a genuine adventure in the stratosphere of the magazine world. Also, an account of the excesses (not her fault) that ultimately made it unsustainable. It is the tale of an iconic magazine and its people, related in the language of food. The events that swirled through her ten years included 9/11 and the blooming of electronic media.

Reichl can be a name-dropper, but as an accomplished writer, reviewer, food expert and executive, she is also one whose own name merits being dropped. She knows everyone, as she must. And she is the rare author who is also the very best choice for narrator.

Her greatest fear—that she’ll be hopelessly in over her head—is never remotely realized. And she has a reverence for good food that underlies and provides a metaphor for everything she does.

At a fine Paris restaurant, her prose becomes almost erotic: “The food was extraordinary; the duck a mineral slab of meat, blood-red with the wild taste of lakes and forests. Bill’s scallops, still in their pretty pink shells, sizzled with butter, sending delicious whiffs of bacon, garlic and thyme shooting across the table. As the meal progressed in a blur of flavor, I found myself eating with joyful abandon.”

Ruth Reichl’s memoir covers a pivotal time in the magazine world, and the exploits of a supremely talented and creative crew make for a lively story. There are even a few recipes.

  • The Color of Lightning

  • By: Paulette Jiles
  • Narrated by: Jack Garrett
  • Length: 13 hrs and 33 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 229
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 197
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 196

A soaring work of the imagination based on oral histories of the post - Civil War years in North Texas, Paulette Jiles's The Color of Lightning is at once an intimate look into the hearts and hopes of tragically flawed human beings and a courageous reexamination of a dark American history.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.

  • By Marlice Peabody on 02-20-17

A Moment in Time, Preserved

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-13-19

Some of the best stories are those that capture and examine a moment in history, turning it over and over like an especially interesting fossil. This is one of them. The moment is 1863, when the Civil War is dragging to a close and all eyes are on Western expansion. In Texas, this means the convergence and conflict arising when whites, blacks, and Indians share the same space—not to mention buffalo, the cavalry, a bit of religion, and the Klan.

Paulette Jiles’ research into oral histories of the period gives this opus the ring of authenticity—of course the Indians wouldn’t agree to become farmers!—and her descriptive prowess converts the vast rolling plains into unforgettable poetry. Her characters are fully formed and infinitely varied, yet all relatable and memorable.

Add Jack Garrett’s skillful narration, and you get 13-1/2 hours that will haunt you long after it’s done.

  • In Dubious Battle

  • By: John Steinbeck
  • Narrated by: Tom Stechschulte
  • Length: 10 hrs and 3 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 266
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 233
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 233

This 1936 novel—set in the California apple country—portrays a strike by migrant workers that metamorphoses from principled defiance into blind fanaticism.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • The best story - ever ! Awesome narrator !!!!!!!!!

  • By Inventing Mostly on 03-07-15

A Steinbeck Gem

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-06-19

This 1936 novel about an apple-pickers’ strike in California is often considered one of Steinbeck’s best works, even though it’s not one of his best-known. While it may be a bit of a period piece, it’s also a tightly crafted story with constant drama and strong central characters. The pacing alone is a work of art. So are Steinbeck’s legendary descriptive and dialogue skills.

Mac McLeod is a union organizer, generally assumed to be a communist, who arrives with his young acolyte, Jim Nolan, to encourage a strike by men whose pay has just been cut by the apple growers. What follows could be a parable for today’s hyper-polarized political environment.

The owners and laborers exist at the far ends of the spectrum. But Doc Burton, a reliable volunteer of health services for striking workers, is a rare exception.

“I want to see the whole picture, as nearly as I can,” he says. “I don’t want to put on the blinders of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and limit my vision. If I use the term ‘good’ on a thing, I’d lose my license to inspect it. Because there might be ‘bad’ in it, don’t you see? I want to be able to look at the whole thing.”

But Mac insists, “How about social injustice, the profit system? You have to say they’re bad”—thus missing the doctor’s point, or illustrating it. The “Red” labor agitator can’t see the big picture any more than the corporate farmers can.

Mac hopes for violence, to keep the men fired up. He obsesses constantly over the danger that the strikers will lose their nerve, and he will do anything to maintain it. He worries about boredom, rain, food shortages, leadership—anything. The end justifies the means, and the orchard owners would agree, but from an entirely different perspective.

It’s an excellent read, and Tom Stechschulte is a great reader.

  • The River

  • A Novel
  • By: Peter Heller
  • Narrated by: Mark Deakins
  • Length: 7 hrs and 18 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 170
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 154
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 153

When Wynn and Jack decide to canoe the Maskwa River in Northern Canada, they anticipate long days of leisurely paddling and picking blueberries and nights of stargazing and reading paperback Westerns. But a wildfire making its way across the forest adds unexpected urgency to the journey. When they hear a man and woman arguing on the fog-shrouded riverbank and decide to warn them about the fire, their search for the pair turns up nothing and no one. But: The next day, a man appears on the river, paddling alone. Is this the man they heard? And, if he is, where is the woman? 

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • I would have enjoyed this book...

  • By Fred J. Kamm on 03-21-19

Disappointing

Overall
2 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-30-19

Two best friends at college who are expert outdoorsmen set off on a long canoe trip through the Canadian wilderness. The author is clearly an authority on camping, canoeing and fishing in a remote region (or has done his homework), but beyond that, the plot is simply not very interesting. The two main characters, despite a detailed backstory, come off as wooden and two-dimensional. It’s hard to feel much empathy for them. Mark Deakins has perfect diction, but for this book he adds very little emotion or drama.

Perhaps it would be better if compressed into a short story.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Nightwoods

  • A Novel
  • By: Charles Frazier
  • Narrated by: Will Patton
  • Length: 8 hrs and 46 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 803
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 712
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 705

Charles Frazier puts his remarkable gifts in the service of a lean, taut narrative while losing none of the transcendent prose, virtuosic storytelling, and insight into human nature that have made him one of the most beloved and celebrated authors in the world. Now, with his brilliant portrait of Luce, a young woman who inherits her murdered sister’s troubled twins, Frazier has created his most memorable heroine. Before the children, Luce was content with the reimbursements of the rich Appalachian landscape....

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Beautiful writing and powerful narration

  • By Molly on 10-20-11

Another Treasure from Charles Frazier

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-26-19

Frazier’s writing and Patton’s narration are a powerful team in this taut, almost magical drama set in Appalachia.

When a reclusive woman inherits the mute children of her murdered sister, poisonous characters almost ooze from the forests around the tumbledown former resort where she is caretaker. The author offers a profusion of small, compelling scenes, like an afternoon snack of the deep-fried spinal cord of a hog, accompanied by frosty glasses of buttermilk. There is exquisitely crafted misdirection, and surprising connections. They are slow to develop, but that doesn’t indicate a plodding narrative. It’s quite the opposite, again due to superb writing and a narrator who wraps his voice around every nuance.

  • The Tattooist of Auschwitz

  • A Novel
  • By: Heather Morris
  • Narrated by: Richard Armitage
  • Length: 7 hrs and 25 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 5,923
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 5,424
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 5,394

In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (German for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners. Imprisoned for more than two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism - but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • A hopeful perspective on a harrowing time

  • By melyssa57 (A Page Before Bedtime dot com) on 10-10-18

Love Among the Ruins

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-19-19

This is the gripping true story of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew who survived the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau; not only survived, but through cleverness and exceptional luck, endured the war years to be reunited with the love of his life. The vile inhumanity of the Nazi death camps is not downplayed, but the real story that shines through is a heartwarming one of hope and human endurance.

Richard Armitage delivers the pitch-perfect narration of a harrowing yet triumphant story that will stay with you long after it ends.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Doc

  • A Novel
  • By: Mary Doria Russell
  • Narrated by: Mark Bramhall
  • Length: 16 hrs and 38 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,000
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 828
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 825

The year is 1878, peak of the Texas cattle trade. The place is Dodge City, Kansas, a saloon-filled cow town jammed with liquored-up adolescent cowboys and young Irish hookers. Violence is random and routine, but when the burned body of a mixed-blood boy named Johnnie Sanders is discovered, his death shocks a part-time policeman named Wyatt Earp. And it is a matter of strangely personal importance to Doc Holliday, the frail 26-year-old dentist who has just opened an office at No. 24, Dodge House.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Great writing and narration

  • By Dennis on 06-02-11

Irresistible Western History

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-14-19

John Henry “Doc” Holliday is an eloquent and cultured Southern gentleman, a dental surgeon and consummate gambler who is dying young in the savage frontier town of Dodge City, Kansas.

“He began to die when he was twenty-one, but tuberculosis is slow and sly and subtle. The disease took fifteen years to hollow out his lungs so completely they could no longer keep him alive. In all that time, he was allowed a single season of something like happiness.”

Mary Doria Russell’s compelling prose brings the characters vividly to life, and they’re all here: Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp and his brothers, and they are nothing like TV's cardboard versions of the late 1950s. Bat is a dandy dresser but growing rotund and of questionable ethics; Wyatt favored a shotgun, and if he carried a pistol it was never the Colt Buntline Special that Hugh O’Brian favored.

“Dime novelists worked hard to make a city marshall’s job seem thrilling,” Russell writes. “They told stories about showdowns and shootouts and so on, but mostly they made it all up. Even in a frontier hellhole like Dodge, policemen spent a lot of time replacing boards in the wooden sidewalks, controlling packs of stray dogs, and trapping skunks or raccoons that made nests under buildings.”

But they are all secondary to Doc, whose own credentials as a gunfighter were also greatly exaggerated. This is an engaging work of historical fiction, rich with detail, beautifully written and scrupulously researched. The list of characters at the beginning numbers several dozen, each identified as real or fictional. You feel you need to write them down, but you don’t. They all spring to life quickly enough.

There are several mentions of the iconic shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, but the novel never gets there. This is the story of Dodge, unadorned with movie clichés, so real you can almost feel it. Add Mark Bramhall’s authentic narration, and you have a perfect example of the way in which author and narrator can team up to make something superior to “just a book”—no matter how excellent that book may be. It’s a terrific story, not to be missed.

  • Island of the Lost

  • Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World
  • By: Joan Druett
  • Narrated by: David Colacci
  • Length: 8 hrs and 35 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 3,403
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,139
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,131

Auckland Island is a godforsaken place in the middle of the Southern Ocean, 285 miles south of New Zealand. With year-round freezing rain and howling winds, it is one of the most forbidding places in the world. To be shipwrecked there means almost certain death. In 1864, Captain Thomas Musgrave and his crew of four aboard the schooner Grafton wreck on the southern end of the island. Utterly alone in a dense coastal forest, plagued by stinging blowflies and relentless rain, Captain Musgrave inspires his men to take action.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • One of the Best Stories Ever Told!

  • By Tiffany on 04-10-16

The Greatest Shipwreck You Never Knew

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-05-19

A tremendous true story of shipwreck and survival on the desolate Auckland Islands, not to mention innovative solutions by the survivors to deal with their dismal situation. In that sense they are reminiscent of the clever castaways of Jules Vernes’ “The Mysterious Island.” The author has assembled a trove of information from the 19th century in impressive detail. But the writing lacks flair, in my view, perhaps abetted by the somewhat wooden narration by David Colacci. An amazing adventure related in a scholarly way.

  • Last Bus to Wisdom

  • A Novel
  • By: Ivan Doig
  • Narrated by: David Aaron Baker
  • Length: 15 hrs and 43 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,141
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,036
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,033

The final novel from a great American storyteller. Donal Cameron is being raised by his grandmother, the cook at the legendary Double W ranch in Ivan Doig's beloved Two Medicine Country of the Montana Rockies, a landscape that gives full rein to an 11-year-old's imagination. But when Gram has to have surgery for "female trouble" in the summer of 1951, all she can think to do is to ship Donal off to her sister in faraway Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Ivan Doig was getting older

  • By Starr Callies on 01-13-16

All Aboard the Dog Bus

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-02-19

Donal Cameron is an orphan boy of 11-going-on-12 in 1951, being raised by his grandmother who cooks on a ranch in Montana. But Gran is ill, and circumstances require that he grow up fast, if he can survive his almost spectacular gullibility. Sent for the summer by bus to his great aunt’s home in Manitowoc, WI, he is initially convinced that she is the world-famous singer, Kate Smith. Not even close.

David Aaron Baker, whose soft, youthful drawl gives life to the zany works of Charles Portis, among others, gets to exercise even more of his talents here. He voices a parade of characters who get on and off the “dog bus”—the Greyhound that is like a moving stage traversing the Great Plains. Donal meets a shifty traveling preacher, a sheriff with his stepbrother in handcuffs, a rodeo hero, waitresses, retirees, kids on their way to camp and soldiers en route to Korea – and apparently the real Jack Kerouac, on the road.

His abusive, self-centered aunt soon puts the boy back on the bus headed west, but her purported husband, known as “Herman the German,” slips away to join him. What follows is a rollicking journey encompassing Yellowstone Park and hobo camps, close calls and dumb luck. Each successive crisis becomes worse, and each solution more magical. Things turn ever more serious, and the title becomes literal as well as conceptual, but the sense of wonder and adventure never leaves.

“The miles upon miles of my summer, the immense Greyhound journey, right down to the last bus to Wisdom, were simply leaving me torn in two,” Donal muses.

It would be Ivan Doig’s last novel, a semi-autobiographical account of his own youth in the West. He ends with a wistful but satisfying conclusion, leaving young Donal to grow up. Without the author to tell the tale, the rest of the story is left to the reader’s imagination. As it should be.

  • The Little Stranger

  • By: Sarah Waters
  • Narrated by: Simon Vance
  • Length: 15 hrs and 49 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 1,154
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 866
  • Story
    3.5 out of 5 stars 863

The Little Stranger follows the strange adventures of Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country doctor. One dusty postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, he is called to a patient at Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for more than two centuries, the Georgian house, once grand and handsome, is now in decline - its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at 20 to nine.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • A creepy story, with atmosphere for days

  • By Lesley on 10-13-14

Gothic Lite

Overall
2 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-09-19

While the book offers the Gothic mood of a crumbling old mansion and the equally deteriorating social class that once ruled there, I am at a loss to understand its enthusiastic reviews—of which there are more than a few. It’s not the fault of the narrator, Simon Vance, who gives perfect voice to the pale life of a quotidian country doctor.

But when I completed nine hours of listening and realized that almost nothing whatsoever had happened yet, it was time to move on to something else.